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Data Analysis Shows Birth Defects from Veterans' Exposure to Agent Orange

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Yale researchers have found evidence of a connection between Vietnam veterans' exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange in Southeast Asia and the occurrence of birth defects and developmental disabilities in their children.

Using data that only were made available to the public about 2 years ago, George Knafl, associate research scientist and statistician at Yale School of Nursing, said in presenting his findings at the conference Dioxin 2003, in Boston, that his results differ from those of the U.S. Air Force because he employed more powerful modeling and analysis techniques.

The Air Force Health Study in 1992 concluded there was no association between exposure to dioxin, which was the toxic contaminant in Agent Orange, and reproductive outcomes.

"Results for composite categories suggest that the children of Vietnam veterans constitute a likely vulnerable population as a consequence of their fathers' potential Vietnam service dioxin exposure," said Knafl in his talk at the Westin-Copley Hotel and Conference Center.

The coauthor of the study, Linda Schwartz, a research scientist at the Yale School of Nursing, said currently the Veterans Administration (VA) provides compensation and assistance to children with birth defects born to women who served in Vietnam.

"It is our hope that this analysis will reopen the discussion about the VA assisting children with birth defects born to the men who served in Vietnam," she said. The VA only recognizes spina bifida, a congenital defect of the vertebra, as a compensable outcome of dioxin exposure to men who served in Vietnam.

Knafl said his statistical analyses were conducted over 2 years and addressed personnel responsible for herbicide handling and spraying in Vietnam, a military campaign known as "Operation Ranch Hand," along with a comparison group of other Air Force Vietnam veterans. This article was prepared by Biotech Week editors from staff and other reports.

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